Right to repair: the battle rages on

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The fight for the right to repair is nothing new.

The automotive aftermarket – and other industry aftermarkets – strive to get the tools and information they need from OEMs to perform safe and complete repairs on a wide range of devices ranging from phones to cars for decades.

According to the Repair Association, the fight for access to repair data dates back to a U.S. Department of Justice antitrust order filed against IBM in 1956 that forced the company to allow aftermarket repairers access to repair data. appropriate equipment and information.

Fast forward more than half a century, and the frontline in the battle for auto repair rights has shifted to Massachusetts, where in 2020 nearly 2.6 million people have voted to implement statewide legislation guaranteeing the right to repair for all. spare parts suppliers.

In the nearly two years since, the law has been challenged by the Alliance of Automotive Innovation, an industry lobby group made up of more than 30 automotive and technology OEMs, and a ruling in that lawsuit has been delayed for at least 12 months.

The backstory

When the right to repair vote issue was presented to voters in Massachusetts, nearly 75% of voters said they wanted a standard statewide vehicle data platform.

Aaron Lowe, senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs for the Auto Care Association, said this was a very strong and clear signal of overwhelming support for the independent repair industry.

“Anyone who has access to wireless data should ensure that the customer can direct that repair and diagnostic data to an independent workshop from the vehicle if they wish to do business with them,” says Lowe. “It was to make sure there was continued competition, that companies could compete with each other for repairs.”

Two weeks after the measure was passed in November 2020, the Automotive Innovation Alliance filed a lawsuit challenging the decision. After a week-long trial in June 2021, Lowe says it looked like a decision was imminent; Judge Douglas Woodlock had expressed the wish to have a decision within a month or two.

Then came a delay. And another. And then three more.

The most recent, which Woodlock released in April, pushed back a potential decision for the trial to July 2022, well over a year since the trial began.

“It’s an incredible amount of time, and the delays are surprising, given that in the early stages of the trial he wanted this to be decided as soon as possible,” Lowe says.

What does this mean for the secondary market?

Lowe says it’s a concerning trend — automakers continue to install telematics technology and other ADAS systems with no way to ensure competition for repairs.

The main problem is not a lack of ability to comply with the voter-approved mandate, Lowe says — the necessary technology and systems are already available and can be implemented quite easily.

“We’re really not that far away at all. It’s really a case where the manufacturer decides they’re going to comply,” he says. “This technology is not really rocket science. It can be done.”

Instead, it’s all about control, and right now OEMs have done everything they can to make sure they remain the “gatekeepers” of a vehicle’s data for as long as possible.

This endless process has already benefited OEMs, who have been able to delay compliance on the grounds that federal law prevails over state initiative. To make matters worse, whoever loses the lawsuit is likely to file an appeal, which will further delay the process.

“The longer this judge takes to deliver a verdict, the longer we go without addressing this whole issue of data, access, and compliance,” Lowe says. “It’s a loss ultimately for car owners in the state of Massachusetts, but it’s also a loss for the aftermarket.”

Hope on the horizon

As frustrating as the current situation is for the secondary market, Lowe says there are reasons for optimism.

He points to the fact that a bill like the one Massachusetts voted for received such overwhelming support as key evidence that the general public is siding with the aftermarket.

A bill similar to the one in Massachusetts is currently making its way through the federal legislature that would impose similar mandates.

As long as store owners continue to help educate their customers about the importance of the right to repair and how they can support local efforts to pass legislation protecting this right, Lowe says the aftermarket is and will continue to be in good shape to fight. .

“It is extremely important that with the evolution of technology, the vehicle owner continues to be the one who decides who will be able to access their vehicle to carry out repairs. That’s ultimately what’s at stake here,” says Lowe. “We will continue to fight to ensure the repair remains open and competitive.”

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